Brand New Smallpox-Related Virus Emerges In Country Of Georgia

Scientists have identified new cases of a never-before-seen smallpox-related virus in the country of Georgia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers reported this week.

Two herdsmen in Georgia came into contact with sick cattle, which is how they were infected with the previously unknown orthopoxvirus, the CDC said. Fortunately, both of the herdsmen survived the infection.

NPR reported that the symptoms included swollen lymph nodes, weakness, fever and blisters on the hands and arms. There has not yet been evidence of human-to-human transmission of this orthopoxvirus, but little is known about the virus so far, NPR noted.

Both of the herdsmen had not been vaccinated against smallpox, but that is not necessarily unusual. Because of the eradication of smallpox, people are no longer routinely vaccinated against the disease. However, smallpox vaccination did not just protect against smallpox -- it also protected against other orthopoxviruses. Orthopoxviruses are typically associated with animals (for instance, cowpox and monkeypox are known to infect animals, but can then infect humans).

"Orthopoxviruses are anticipated to emerge in the absence of routine smallpox vaccination and should be considered in persons who experience cutaneous lesions after animal contact," the CDC researchers wrote in an abstract of the case.

The researchers also noted that they identified a third person in another part of the country who was likely infected with this new orthopoxvirus, but who was originally thought to have anthrax.